Tele-filmmaker Shyamaprasad's foray into the big screen
The eternal quest for inner peace,
born out of disillusionment in life, is what Agnisakshi
is all about. Tele film maker Shyamaprasad's maiden
big-screen venture is based on an award- winning novel
of the same name by noted Malayalam writer Lalithambika
Antharjanam. It is the saga of a woman, Devaki, who
rises in revolt from the confines of her decadent society
and her journey to self realization. Through Devaki,
the film also seeks to explore the pre-independence
era society of the Nampoodiris, the Brahmins of Kerala.
Agnisakshi unfolds through the reminiscences of Thangam
Nair (Praveena). During a pilgrimage to Hardwar, she
meets Sumithrananda, a sanyasin, played by Shobhana,
who evokes memories of her long lost teenage friend
Devaki, called Thethi in Nampoothiri parlance. The sanyasin
refuses to recognize Thangam.
Thangam remembers Thethi as the wife of the gentle and
spiritually inclined Unni (Rajit Kapoor) of Manampalli
Illom, a Namboodiri household. Apphan Nampoothiri (Madampu
Kunjukuttan), the elder brother of Unni, symbolized
the authoritarian patriarchy of the era. The women in
the family were confined to the dark corridors of the
illam. Thethi, too, was spared. Her only solace was
Thangam, Apphan's daughter in his relationship with
a Nair woman.
Those were the years when several reformists within
the society came forward to liberate the Namboodiri
women. Thethi, unhappy with her life in the illam, left
her marital home to join one of these movements. Meanwhile,
Thangam married a wealthy Nair youth and set up home
in north India. She would often hear of Devaki Manampalli,
the reformist and freedom fighter, and knew it was her
friend Thethi. The next stage in Thethi's quest was
Gandhiku's ashram where she became Devi behan; she soon
left the place following some bitter experience. In
search of elusive tranquility, she embraced sanyaas
and became Sumithrananda to set up ashram at Hardwar.
Unni, who spent the rest of his days in solitude studying
scriptures, had all the while preserved Thethi's mangalsutra
as a reminder of their short matrimony. This, before
dying, he had handed over to Thangam asking her to give
it to Thethi or if unable to trace her, immerse it in
The film reverts from the flash back when Sumithrananda
receives Thangam in her ashram and accepts the mangallsutra.
She melts the gold in fire, a sing of atonement, and
gives it to Thangam's granddaughter.
The film, which was recently premiered at the 51 day-long
Surya Twentieth anniversary film, video, dance and music
festival at Thiruvananthapuram, has been faithful to
the novel in following the same sequence of events,
flashbacks and almost the same dialogues. More importantly,
the film accomplishes a better and detailed treatment
of Unni by highlighting the thematic preoccupation of
the novel-spiritual quest over materialistic pursuits.
By choosing a popular novel of the 70s, much acclaimed
for its theme than craft, as the plot for his first
big screen venture, Shyamaprasad has to some extent
succeeded in kindling the curiosity of the viewers,
especially those familiar with the novel. But this also
makes him prone to scrutiny and criticism.
Though conforming to the novel is commendable, it seems
to deprive the film of new thematic explorations and
prevents the director, whose Malayalam telefilms Nilavariyunnu
and Uyirthezhunnelppu have won international acclaim,
from experimenting with the craft. Also, the few songs
in the film seem out of place.
Azhakappan's camera makes the film a visual treat by
absorbing the dim-lit interiors which effectively symbolize
the period in which the story is set.
Scripted by Shyamaprasad himself, the film offers ample
insight into the characters, their worldly struggles
and their efforts to find peace within.